Blue Shield of California taps Microsoft's cloud tech to build integrated data hub

The need for speed underpins a collaborative effort by Blue Shield of California and Microsoft that will utilize the cloud to integrate the health plan’s data with that from providers in real-time, the not-for-profit insurer announced today.

The companies want to build a data collection, storage, and analysis system that they’re dubbing Blue Shield’s Experience Cube, which will run on Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform.

The health plan, which has about 4.8 million members, is collaborating with Microsoft to build an integrated data hub to glean insights faster and improve members’ access to affordable, quality care, executives said. Connected workflows and near real-time clinical data exchange will also help Blue Shield close care gaps for its members in partnership with providers.

With the Experience Cube, that’s currently in operation, the health plan aims to build an integrated digital health record to bring together member, payer and provider data, including members’ lab results, emergency department visits, health conditions and utilization history. One of the goals will be to create a more personalized treatment experience for members.

The health insurer also recently rolled out a pilot with Google Cloud to use cloud technology, artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve prior authorization, a major pain point for providers and patients.

Lisa Davis, the California Blues’ executive vice president and chief information officer, told Fierce Healthcare that “the benefit of Azure is that information is integrated into the Experience Cube in near real-time, so we know what the member’s needs are faster. With this timely information, Blue Shield’s care managers can help our provider partners coordinate care by connecting members to in-network care and services.”

According to Blue Shield of California executives, not only will the data hub create care coordination based more solidly on data that would help members as they move along their care journey, but it will help the insurer connect members who need additional assistance to resources that address the social determinants of healthcare.

Davis said that “later this year, we’ll announce details on the member health record that is powered by the Experience Cube. Blue Shield is working to integrate workflows with providers’ electronic medical record systems to coordinate care and close care gaps based on shared member insights.”

While the data hub relies on the cloud to speed up access to quality care, Blue Shield of California and Microsoft want to explore how artificial intelligence and machine learning might also help improve operations by connecting data in various healthcare silos.

“We were excited to collaborate with Blue Shield of California because of their innovative Health Reimagined vision and commitment to the health of their communities. We are proud to serve as Blue Shield of California’s digital backbone and empower them to deliver exceptional member experiences, modernize operations, and foster more collaboration with providers to help members achieve their best possible health outcomes,” Tyler Bryson, corporate vice president for the U.S. health and public sector industries at Microsoft, said in the press release.

In addition to the Experience Cube, Blue Shield of California and Microsoft utilize Azure to process and analyze huge amounts of data to enable the insurer to better respond to business and industry trends. For instance, thanks to Azure, the insurer can process billions of healthcare transactions in a few weeks, as opposed to the months that it took to do the same job with legacy computers, executives said.

Davis said that “we are actively using Azure for artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve customer care, call center experiences, and health equity. We’re also exploring other applications of the technologies to meet our members’ health needs in new ways.”